Across the history of independent India, secularism, from the perspective of history, has been a one-way street, favouring the interests of one minority community against those of the majority and several other minority groups.
A teaser of it was visible during the protests against Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) when one and only one minority community protested a framework to aid the cause of oppressed minorities in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Afghanistan, conveniently forgetting that two of these three countries were founded recently on the principle of two-nation theory, or simply because one community wanted its way of life to prevail and refused to coexist.
Post the Supreme Court verdict on Ram Janmabhoomi, there was an expectation amongst many that an elaborate and honest debate would now be a part of the public discourse, emphasising the wrongs of the Mughal era and several Islamic invaders before them, and how several temples and sites important to the Hindu civilisation were decimated and new structures were built upon their ruins.
A case in point was the Gyanvapi mosque, adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath Temple. A petition filed in 2019, post the verdict, sought an archaeological survey of the mosque, and come 2022, after much resistance, the survey is finally underway.
The survey is not merely a political stunt, as the likes of Asaduddin Owaisi would want it to be, but points to a greater civilisational question. For the better part of the last seven decades, we have been taught to romanticise everything Mughal, from their cuisines to their fashion, and from their architecture to their literature. The focus has been commercially translated into forms of cinema for mass consumption, thus imposing upon the gullible young population the unverified and disputable ‘greatness’ of the Mughal empire.
For an empire that lasted three centuries, in bits and pieces, there is no way to dismiss its existence or legacy altogether, but it cannot be at the cost of the civilizations before it, one that has been here for more than three millennia. The argument about not looking back at Mughals or their atrocities and rather focussing on the future of India is a lazy one, for all great economies have either corrected their historical wrongs or learned from them as they marched ahead. Look at the United States and China, for starters.
If there has to be a disproportionate focus on the Mughal architecture, there must also be a focus on the ruins upon which most of the mosques from that era were built. If the Red Fort can still serve as the political centre every Independence Day, if the Taj Mahal can be on every possible travel brochure ever printed in India, and if the Mughals can occupy a significant portion of the curriculum in history books, then an honest conversation around the atrocities committed against the Hindus across the subcontinent must also be a part of the popular narrative, starting with Afghanistan.
The court-mandated survey in Gyanvapi will only affirm what is otherwise a public secret, but the pursuit must not stop there, or merely extend to Mathura. Even if the legal constraints due to the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act, 1991, are factored in, the surveys are being merely undertaken in the interests of archaeology, civilisational history, and science. A court-mandated survey or a petition for it, as is the case with Gyanvapi, does not amount to changing the religious character of any place. One hopes the same surveys are extended to all the temples that have been lost to time, given an elaborate list has been put together by many scholars.
Beyond the surveys, the government, without being apologetic or frightened, must also adopt methods like carbon dating, dendrochronology, and thermoluminescence dating, for not all answers and ruins can be located through surveys alone, and in the interest of science and history, the findings of such studies undertaken must be made available for public consumption, and not be locked away in some sealed rooms in some underground structure.
To correct the wrongs of history, which are no fault of the present-day regimes or societies, the first step is acknowledging and accepting the wrong, followed by an elaborate discussion to undo the damage to the farthest extent possible, and then finally undertaking the redemption. In India, we have failed to take the first step, and that is what gives many politicians the nerve to go and bow before the tombs of Babur or Aurangzeb, thus almost metaphorically spitting on the sentiments of the majority Hindu population.
We are now looking at a generation that finds it hard to believe that an exodus was perpetrated merely three decades ago in Kashmir. Therefore, the surveys and studies matter, and before focussing on what can be reclaimed, the estimates of what was lost must be made public, for everyone to realise the hypocrisy and ignorance upon which the foundations of secularism in India rest.
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